By T.J. Buffenbarger
It’s opening night for the Chili Bowl Nationals. Each day I will make some predictions based on how I view each preliminary day’s entry list picking three drivers in each of the following categories: favorites, wouldn’t surprise me (otherwise known as favorites 1b), and dark horses. The picks are completely unscientific. It will be interesting to see how my gut feeling compares to the actual results.
Here is my breakdown for Tuesday’s preliminary program.
The drivers I consider the favorites to transfer are…
Mike Hess – I have always subscribed to the theory that drivers that run well in midget cars generally run well at the Chili Bowl. Mike Hess is very capable of putting his car into Saturday’s A-Main while bypassing the dreaded alphabet soup.
Michael Pickens – One of New Zealand’s best drivers already has plenty of seat time this season. Pickens is teamed up this year with the Loyet family, so the car will be more than capable of winning. As long as Pickens jells with his team
Bryan Clauson – The 2011 Chili Bowl is setup to showcase Bryan Clauson after a championship year in the USAC Midget division that included a Turkey Night Grand Prix victory Clauson would love to add a Golden Driller to his trophy case to put him in rare air amongst the open wheel greats. Motivation combined with new partner NOS Energy Drink on board could signal a great start to the relationship with a Chili Bowl preliminary victory. Clauson has my pick to win Tuesday’s feature.
Wouldn’t surprise me if…
Brady Bacon slid into one of Tuesday’s transfer positions for the feature. While Bacon is driving a car he is not familiar with, the car based out of the Keith Kunz stable. I do not wise to pick against any of Kunz drivers in Tulsa, and Bacon has run up front in several non-wing starts in 2010.
Jon Stanbrough – People might think I have lost my mind not placing Stanbrough as one of the favorites. Had Stanbrough worked with Marc DeBeaumont more frequently before the Chili Bowl I would place him in the favorites category. .
Brad Kuhn – Kuhn is a threat to win everywhere in a midget car and could easily be in the picks for favorite to win. Someone has to hold down middle ground though and it came between Hess and Kuhn. This pick was almost by coin flip, but look for Kuhn to do well!
My dark horses include…
Jac Haudenschild – Will the Wild Child’s rim riding tactics translate well to midget momentum? Placing Haudenschild on opening night before Tulsa’s top groove becomes battle hardened was a wise move by Bernie Stueben and his Indy Race Parts team. Stueben’s has a knack for putting together a one off combination that clicks at a big event. The unknown of this combination relegates them to my dark horse picks. Haudenschild either ends up in an upper main on Saturday or racing sometime on Saturday morning many in Chili Bowl attendance are still hung over.
Dustin Morgan – Morgan is a good shoe racing in his backyard, and somebody from Tulsa normally ends up doing pretty well at the Chili Bowl. I look for Morgan to put his family owned car in a good position for Saturday.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – Teamed up with RFMS racing Stenhouse has spent the past year collecting Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Stock car focus relegates Stenhouse to dark horse status in my eyes, but it likely will not take long for Stenhouse to knock off the rust. When push comes to shove Stenhouse won’t be afraid to participate in some of the on track contact that is sometimes required at the Chili Bowl. Look for Stenhouse to be in the upper alphabet on Saturday.